Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Comment rescure: Libertarians and discrimination

Much has been made, here and elsewhere, of the question of whether belonging to the Libertarian Party and subscribing to its platform equates with racism, as commenter Anonone proposes:

If you think that hanging "whites only" signs on the doors of private businesses, including hospitals and schools, should remain illegal, you're not a Libertarian.

And if you think that the state shouldn't be used to forcibly evict families from their homes because the landlord doesn't like their skin color, then Libertarianism isn't for you.

If you don't want to join the Klan, the Libertarian Party might be the next best thing if you want anti-discrimination laws repealed.

And there is no middle ground.

The state cannot be neutral when it comes to discrimination laws. It either enforces the "right to discriminate" or in enforces anti-discrimination laws.

Libertarians believe that people and private businesses should have the right to discriminate against anyone for any reason. And the state would need to enforce that "right."

They are wrong.

For the sake of truth in advertising, let's examine the two planks of the Libertarian Party platform that speak directly to this issue, with the sentence in bold highlighting the crux of Anonone's concern:

2.0 Economic Liberty

A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner. Each person has the right to offer goods and services to others on the free market. The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. All efforts by government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.

2.1 Property and Contract

Property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others. We oppose all controls on wages, prices, rents, profits, production, and interest rates. We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services. We oppose all violations of the right to private property, liberty of contract, and freedom of trade. The right to trade includes the right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever. Where property, including land, has been taken from its rightful owners by the government or private action in violation of individual rights, we favor restitution to the rightful owners.

I have already stated, to the chagrin of some of my Libertarian colleagues, that in the sense of the sentence in bold--The right to trade includes the right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever.--I find myself being more of a Constitutionalist than a Libertarian. The Libertarian position as outlined in the platform, works in a functional society among individuals engaging in voluntary trade, but I think the creation of gigantic concentrations of wealth in national, multi-national, and trans-national corporations [almost invariably followed by monopolistic and anti-free market attempts to influence the power of the State or States on their behalf] changes the equation.

Wal-Mart is fundamentally different in organizational structure and legal standing than a small business run by the guy who lives down the street. Wal-mart has reached the point of critical mass in which I believe that it very nearly qualifies for inclusion with the government under the following language from the LP platform:

3.5 Rights and Discrimination

We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should not deny or abridge any individual's rights based on sex, wealth, race, color, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference or sexual orientation. Parents, or other guardians, have the right to raise their children according to their own standards and beliefs.

If I ran the zoo at Libertarian central [and it's not a sure bet, even with Wes in charge these days, that anybody is really running that zoo), the wording would probably be that Government and large corporations should not deny or abridge any individual's rights....

Yeah, I know large corporations is vague but it is late at night. Give me a break on that one.

What I think Anonone misses, or fails to understand about history is, however, is the fact that systematic discrimination requires the coercive power of the State to survive.

It is the State, and not racist merchants in Selma or Montgomery which legislated the Jim Crow laws that required business people for many decades to run separate but equal establishments.

An individual store owner could refuse to serve African-Americans, and that's despicable--at least to me.

But it requires the power of the State to make it illegal for him to serve African-Americans.

Anonone, the segregated schools and hospitals did not originate through the free market system. They were the creatures of the State, and reflected the worst impulses of a majority of the citizens to inflict their prejudices on everyone else via the coercive power of government.

What entity made it illegal for inter-racial couples throughout the American South to be married for so many decades? It wasn't that every single minister in the South was so prejudiced that the State had to come in and clean them up, it was the State that made it illegal for an African-American woman to marry a European-American man.

This is the unlovely truth that that too many Statists refuse to accept.

After Brown v Board of Education of Topeka KS ended segregated schools, the most effective weapon that segregationists had in their arsenals was the argument of States' Rights, which is an oxymoron to almost any Libertarian. Why? Because the State may have powers, but only people have rights. What segregationists did was, after losing the battle in one level of government, use another level of government to keep discriminating against people of color.

Yes, there was violence and intimidation--and if you look closely, all of those acts were already illegal. They could only go unpunished if the State refused to notice them and prosecute the perpetrators.

This is the problem for Statists, especially for those who are liberal and progressive Statists: they believe in the State as the expression of the public will, or as the promoter of the public interest, but what happens when the majority of the people who vote have in mind the use of the State's powers to suppress the rights of the minority?

The Libertarian thesis--slightly restated from the formulation above--is that as odious as we might find the actions of individual bigots, they cannot hold a candle to the systematic discrimination practiced and enforced by the State.

What's happened today is that we live in an era when people determined to reverse the stains of State discrimination actually took the reins of power in the 1960s, and attempted to legislate the end of discrimination, even to the point of passing laws intended to reverse the effects of past State-sponsored discrimination at the expense of people who had neither caused nor participated in it.

Another bitter truth: you can make specific discriminatory practices illegal, but you cannot wipe out prejudice or discrimination via legislation.

We change those things by the way we act, and what we teach our children, not by the laws we pass.

And--truth be told--the State continues to be the most active force for discrimination in this country today.

It is the State which refuses in most places throughout this country to recognize the marriage rights of LGBT American citizens, or their right to serve openly in the military.

It is the State that tries to pass laws defining who is in your family and who may live in your house [laws proposed by many municipalities to discriminate against Hispanics who are automatically assumed to be illegals].

It is the State that has declared a whole group of people completely in our power [enemy combatants] to be unpersons to the extent that no law or due process protects them from the State's decision to torture them.

It is the State that has declared that no mentally competent seventeen-year-old shall be allowed to vote.

It is the State that has declared that American troops who can be trusted with lethal weapons and the defense of our country cannot be allowed to purchase alcohol until they are twenty-one-years-old.

It is the State that refuses to grant preferential immigration status to certain marital partners based on their sexual orientation.

It is the State which mandates immigration quotas designed to limit the admission of some ethnicities while expanding the opportunities of others.

It is the State that turns twelve-to-fifteen-year-old children experimenting with their sexuality into life-long sex offenders because the State enforces the idea that no one below the age of eighteen can give legal consent to sexual activities.

It is the State that seeks to remedy its own previous injustices not by creating a color-blind or prejudice-free society with a level playing field for everyone, but by introducing yet another system of preferential, State-sponsored discrimination.

Anonone believes that the State is the guarantor against discrimination because the State administers whatever system of discrimination is currently in vogue.

An example: two years ago I was told [with a perfectly straight face, mind you] by a senior academic administrator, that certain behaviors toward a homosexual colleague might be despicable but they did not rise to the level of discrimination because the State did not consider sexual orientation to be covered by anti-discrimination laws.

Yesterday: African-Americans and Native-Americans.

Today: LGBT Americans and Hispanic-Americans [who all probably waded the Rio Grande to get here, huh?]

It is the State which sets the program and rules of discrimination, responding to the baser instincts of voting blocks and special interests.

The Libertarian position is pretty simple, actually: if the State were structurally prohibited from enforcing any system of discrimination, there would still be prejudice and there might be some restuarants serving "whites only" or even just members of "La Raza." And some of them--because human taste is almost infinite in its variety--would survive even in a free market.

But Libertarians believe that if you remove the State from the organized discrimination business [including the part wherein one part of the State protects you from the discrimination practiced by the other part], then the overall amount of discrimination and ill-treatment of people based on gender, national identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc etc would decrease so dramatically that society would begin to look damn near like utopia in that regard.

Libertarians could be wrong about this [and progressives could be wrong about the power of the State to do good, as well], but to suggest--as Anonone has done in the comment above--that Libertarians inherently favor discrimination and ill-treatment of other human beings because they have a different plan for reducing or eliminating it, is not just wrong, it's offensive.

To suggest that membership in the Libertarian Party equates with membership of the KKK does not suggest that there is something wrong with the Libertarian Party, but rather strongly indicates that there is something deficient in your own understanding of politics, history, and human nature.


Miko said...

With the Barr era LP, it's not hard to see where this sentiment comes from...

Luckily, there's a small-l libertarian movement out there focusing on methods which eschew the political process. Indeed, I often give the pre-CRA Civil Rights Movement as an example of what libertarian activism should look like (although I'd like to see an effective political wing as well, since multiple strategies never hurts. But in all honesty it doesn't exist right now.)

I think the creation of gigantic concentrations of wealth in national, multi-national, and trans-national corporations [almost invariably followed by monopolistic and anti-free market attempts to influence the power of the State or States on their behalf] changes the equation.

I'll go you one further: this isn't just followed by anti-market dealings, these gigantic corporations were created by the state. Good-sounding regulations are created which actually serve to cartelize industry, prevent competition, encourage mergres, etc. A truly free market society wouldn't have limited corporate liability, obscenely-strong patent protections, protectionism, military Keynesianism to buy up excess product, eminent domain to seize land, subsidized transportation costs, monetary policy to cause unemployment (so that workers are more desperate), mandated employer provided health care (to make changing jobs harder), strict union regulation and the so-called "right to work," ...

Big Business and Big Government exist in a symbiotic relationship. Get rid of one, and the other will fall as well.

Anonymous said...


While I agree that wholeheartedly "the State continues to be the most active force for discrimination in this country today," the current and former discriminatory practices by local and national governments are irrelevant to this discussion.

This discussion is about the Libertarian Party and their advocacy of "The right to trade includes the right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever."

I am going to stick specifically to that topic.

A "right" that is not encoded into law and enforced by the state is not a right at all, for all practical purposes. We have seen this time and again throughout our history, for example, when the Federal Government has had to intervene to enforce civil rights and voting rights laws when individual states would not. If the State tortures you with impunity, your "right" to not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment is meaningless.

So, under Libertarian Government, the power of the State would necessarily need to be used to enforce this "right not to trade - for any reasons whatsoever." This would include enforcement of "whites-only" policies established by private businesses ranging from hospitals and schools to restaurants and retail establishments. Presumably, it would also allow landowners and developers to designate deeds so their property couldn't be sold to black people in perpetuity, as this used to be common in this country.

People would be expected to pay taxes to pay for the all the public infrastructure that supports these private businesses, ranging from sidewalks to security, but then would not be allowed to enter them under penalty of law.

People violating this Libertarian "right not to trade" such as those seeking hospital treatment, resisting eviction from their homes, or trying to purchase food, clothes, or medicine would presumably be subject to fines and/or imprisonment by the government (although some Libertarians clearly believe that it could be enforced through some kind of vigilantism).

So that is crux of the argument. The government either enforces the right not to be discriminated against by private businesses or it enforces the right of private businesses to discriminate "for any reasons whatsoever." Those rights are antithetical. There is no middle ground.

I am not arguing that the state can legislate away prejudice, bigotry and racism. It can't. But it can prevent specific discriminatory practices from being institutionalized and manifestly practiced in the private sector, which is exactly what civil rights and anti-discrimination laws have (mostly) successfully done. That has helped reduce prejudice, bigotry and racism And that has been good for our country and good for the world.

To advocate turning back the clock to the days of enforcing legal "whites only" types of discrimination by private businesses and in individual business transactions, like home sales, is repugnant and wrong. While it does not equate membership in the Libertarian Party with membership in the KKK (an equation I specifically never made, by the way), it is undeniably a common goal of both organizations.


Steve Newton said...

People would be expected to pay taxes to pay for the all the public infrastructure that supports these private businesses, ranging from sidewalks to security, but then would not be allowed to enter them under penalty of law.

With this single sentence you have proven that you have absolutely no idea of what the philosophy of libertarianism entails.

I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

Nice dodge, Steve.

You only "rest your case" because you know that the Libertarian position is indefensible.

One does not need to be an expert in Libertarian political philosophy to see the repugnancy of its stand on civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.

I understand that Libertarians have a another wacky idea of eliminating mandatory taxes and somehow making them voluntary, but I didn't think that you drank that Kool-Aid. Obviously, my assumption was incorrect.

Taxes are legal and necessary under our Constitution, and since you claim to be a "Constitutionalist first and foremost," I thought you would understand that.

I guess you're on the side of an unfunded vigilante justice system, too.

Somalia really does look more and more like it is the Libertarian Utopia that you dream of.


P.S. The above is not meant to change the subject to a discussion of Libertarian taxation ideas. Trying to change or dodge the subject of the Libertarian "right not to trade" through obfuscation is lame.

Hube said...

Wow, before I even saw Steve's reply down below, I immediately picked up on the flaw, such thatn it is, in anonone's argument.

(Note: I am not endorsing either side in this debate. And doesn't it seem to disallow variations on the libertarian theme -- much like "what is a conservative/liberal?")

Anonymous said...


Apparently, if you call yourself a Libertarian then, ipso facto, all your ideas are Libertarian ideas.

Arguing with a Libertarian about Libertarian ideas is like arguing with the Humpty Dumpty in Through The Looking Glass:

" 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.' "


Hube said...

Apparently, if you call yourself a Libertarian then, ipso facto, all your ideas are Libertarian ideas.

According to whom?

Anonymous said...



Hube said...

Ah, so you're playing games now, anonone?

I'll try again: Libertarians cannot have variations among them that are widely accepted among conservatives and liberals?

Tyler Nixon said...

Yeah, Hube!

It's just like every anonymous commenter, as far as we know, is the same person...and all their statements apply to each other uniformly, no matter how distinct or divergent.

Because, ipso facto, only the anonymous commenter says they are not all, in fact, the same person.

Makes about as much sense as this/the anonymous commenter's "logic", no?

Anonymous said...


I wrote my comments here to discuss the Libertarian "right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever."

I did not come to discuss Libertarian tax policy nor did I claim expertise in the nuances of what "the philosophy of libertarianism entails." Frankly, any political philosophy which supports a right to discriminate for whatever reason doesn't really deserve any further study.

Nevertheless, I made the assumption that Steve didn't buy into the whole "taxes should be voluntary" part of Libertarianism. I was wrong in my assumption.

Of course, Libertarians can have variations among themselves. But with Steve's dodge and Tyler's condescension, the question is: who cares?

I don't.


Steve Newton said...

Before you go getting bored, please show once--anywhere--in my own words where I have ever said taxes should be voluntary.

That's what makes is frustrating and only borderline worth it to engage you. You make up stuff, attribute it to the person with whom you are speaking, and then denounce them for it.

While you are looking for the quotation that you cannot find, let me explain: some libertarians consider all taxation to be a form of theft (as some progressives consider single-payer health care as the only form suitable for a civilized society).

I don't agree with that. However, that doesn't mean the only two possibilities are "no taxes at all" and your "government builds sidewalks, etc etc"

The US Constitution established a government of enumerated and specifically limited powers, and so did the State constitutions beneath them. There are two possibilities for the uses of tax money: a general grant of powers and a limited (enumerated) grant. While recognizing the power of the government under the Constitution to raise tax revenues, I would argue for profoundly restricting what can be done with them; that in turn leads to the argument for the smallest possible tax rate.

You say Taxes are legal and necessary under our Constitution, and since you claim to be a "Constitutionalist first and foremost," I thought you would understand that.

Taxes are "necessary" under the Constitution only therefore for specific actions, and certain kinds of taxes are specifically illegal.

As for your repeated utterance that

Frankly, any political philosophy which supports a right to discriminate for whatever reason doesn't really deserve any further study.

Translated: in the end Anonone holds that it is the government and not the property owner who controls how the property owner uses his/her property in virtually all cases, which means that the government needs virtually unlimited power.

Anonymous said...


When you take one sentence out of my comment and declare that because of it I "have absolutely no idea of what the philosophy of libertarianism entails," then what am I to think other than:

1) Steve disagrees with that sentence entirely or

2) You're dodging or

3) Both 1 and 2 above

In the absence of any further elucidation from you, I chose 3.

Ah, well.

As far as "That's what makes is frustrating and only borderline worth it to engage you. You make up stuff, attribute it to the person with whom you are speaking, and then denounce them for it."

Steve, I can cite numerous examples of you doing precisely the same thing, starting with saying I wrote "KKK=Libertarian" and and ending with the last paragraph of your last comment:

"Translated: in the end Anonone holds that it is the government..."

Of course, nothing I wrote can be "translated" as such.

In reality, except for the tax thing, your responses to my specific points regarding the "right not to trade" have been non-existent. If you re-read my original comment to this thread, you'll see I didn't attribute anything to you. I stated my case thoughtfully and you blew it all off.

I can't say I blame you. The Libertarian "right not to trade" really is indefensible.


Anonymous said...

Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East

Duffy said...

I'm sure everyone is familiar with Rosa Parks and the bus boycott that kicked off the struggle for civil rights. Did you know that it was only by force of law that Blacks were forced to the back of the bus? There were both private and public bus lines then and the private company did not want to annoy their largest client base by making them sit in the back. That started with the government owned buses. It was only after a law was passed that forced the private bus lines to follow suit that the whole boycott thing took off. Even in the Jim Crow south the private companies had to be mindful of their customers even if they considered them inferior or whatever.

Bowly said...

I've made this analogy before, and I'll make it here again.

You can support the right of free speech for a group like, for example, Stormfront, without supporting the speech itself.

And you can support the "right to trade" or "not to trade" without supporting the reasons behind the decision not to trade.

If you don't support Stormfront's right to free speech, then you don't really believe in free speech. And if you don't believe in a private property owner's right to deny someone access to that property, then you don't really believe in private property (or you don't believe that that property is private, which amounts to the same thing). It really is that simple. (Much like the War on Drugs, or organ selling, can be boiled down to "Do you own your body?")

If you answer those questions differently than I do, that's fine. But don't pretend that the principles are any different than what they are. You don't really believe that my property is mine. But at least I readily admit that my philosophy would allow some racist jackasses to legally do things that they currently cannot. But my philosophy also allows for countermeasures such as pickets and boycotts. Seriously...do you really think that in 2009 that large numbers of "No Blacks Allowed" businesses would survive in this country?

Bowly said...

The more I thought about A1's line of thinking, the angrier I got. Given the current government's racism record (like the number of blacks in prison because of the War On Drugs, or because of racial profiling by police--and that's without getting into historical examples like Jim Crow and slavery), I am confident that "Libertopia" will be pretty damned competitive with how it treats African-Americans. The "current and former discriminatory practices by local and national governments" are certainly NOT irrelevant to this discussion; they're the whole point.

Isolating one line from the libertarian platform does not prove discriminatory preferences. Current reality is highly discriminatory to dark-skinned Americans, every day.

If we're talking about a purely pragmatic difference between your position (which really exists, and has real examples) and mine, I like my odds. I can come up with thousands of examples of blacks being jailed for victimless crimes in about 5 minutes. Given a bit more time, I can come up with hundreds or thousands of examples of blacks being treated more harshly than whites for similar violent crimes. Yet you insist that my position is the racist one. That takes balls. And this is not theory based on some ideology; it's really happening, right now.

And if you insist on staying in the theoretical world, I'll give you this one: someday, a man will be executed, but will later be proven innocent. Care to guess what his race is? In my Libertopia, he would still be alive. In the current United States, his odds aren't as good.

Your concern focuses on one line of the platform without focusing on the overall ideology, which is what Steve was referring to when he said "you have proven that you have absolutely no idea of what the philosophy of libertarianism entails." He wasn't wrong. My ideology will release a HELL of a lot of black men from prison. If you still insist that libertarians are racists, then I have no further desire to engage in civil discourse with you.